So What?

My first boss famously asked his analysts the same question in meetings.  The question was, ‘So, what?’ That one simple question forced us to go a level deeper to understand and articulate our rationale for the action we were proposing.

‘So, what?’ can take many forms such as ‘For what purpose?’ or ‘To what end?’ but the meaning is always the same: What is it that you are trying to achieve and how does this effort get us there?

Philanthropists either are or should be asking themselves routinely, ‘So, what?’- “So What difference are we making?”  That simple practice will drive a vision and mission statement deeper, will provide a grounding for the logic model or theory of change guiding your work, will help all involved focus on outcomes and not just outputs, and will provide a starting point for evaluation of impact.  It will force the conversation to focus on the basic principle of why you are doing what you are doing.

There are contrasting ideas about how much engineering or un-engineering should go into planning for philanthropy.  Some suggest that complex social problems are too difficult to develop a detailed theory of change.  Others see detailed theories as a foundation by which all philanthropy should be grounded.  Perhaps it is less about the tool and more about a constant and important process of asking ‘So, what?’

As you look at a portfolio of grants in a year or over time, the classic question becomes, ‘So, what?’  As a philanthropic strategist, I love helping clients ask this question and exploring the process it takes to formulate an answer.

A simple, but powerful exercise.